What is Truth?

By Sam Kean

Some say it can’t be known. Others postulate it is relative to each individual and situation, or is a matter of perspective, or perhaps is just “what works.” The trend in most peoples’ mind is that whatever truth is, it is not absolute… certainly not something upon which everyone can or even should agree. As Norman Geisler states in his book, BECA, “There are many kinds of truth, physical, mathematical, historical, and theoretical” (p. 742). However, here the reader will find discussion about the nature of truth.

Let’s examine these arguments about truth before defining it.

  • Argument: “There is no such thing as absolutes or absolute truth.”
    • Answer: “Do you assert that as being truthful and absolute?”
  • Argument: “Truth cannot be known, and no one has the truth.” [ex. Immanuel Kant]
    • Answer: “Do you know for sure that truth cannot be known? How did you come to know that truth cannot be known? How can you know for certain that no one has the truth? Do you have all knowledge?”
  • Argument: “Truth is only what’s scientifically provable.” [ex. Empiricism]
    • Answer: “Is your statement scientifically provable?”
  • Argument: “Truth is that which is coherent. Truth is what’s consistent & comprehensive.”
    • Answer: “Yes, truth does cohere, but to what–itself? It is consistent but about what? It is comprehensive but about what?” If truth does not correspond coherently to reality, if it does not describe reality as it is, then consistency and comprehensiveness are altogether inadequate for a proper definition of truth.
  • Argument: “Truth is relative. Truth is a matter of perspective. It is found in persons, not in propositions.” [ex. Soren Kirkengaard, Martin Buber, existentialism]
    • Answer: “You’re postulating an absolute. Are you prepared to accept your statement only applies as being truthful to your opinion, based on your limited experience, perspective, etc.? Whatever is circumstantially true is absolutely true to that circumstance, no matter what.” (ex. If I say I am hungry at 12:23pm EST in Indiana on Jan. 27th, then that is true no matter if you believe me or not.) “What is true will be relevant, but not everything relevant is true” (Geisler, p. 742).
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  • Argument: “Truth is what works.” 
    • Answer: “Pragmatism leaves out ethics and morals. Is it ok for you to rob me, kill me, etc. if that is truth for you? Would that argument hold in court? Try living a day based on pragmatism and no ethics.”
  • Argument: “Truth is what everyone is really meaning to say. Truth is the thing intended.”
    • Answer: “Sincerity merely embellishes truth; it cannot define it. Are we to understand every absurdity is true if intended to be truth?” (ex. Just because one sincerely states that Austria is in the South Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean does not make the statement true.)
  • Argument: “What is true for you is not true for me.”
    • Answer: “Does your statement apply to everyone?” Apply this consistently in every area of life, and you’ll soon find yourself locked away either in an insane asylum or in jail.
  • Argument: “Truth is what feels good. If it feels good, do it.”
    • Answer: “Hearing that your loved one is dead would not feel good, but it is still the truth. On the other hand, conscience (and feeling good in one’s conscience) may be a guide if and only if that conscience is formed on truth. Conscience is not truth, and conscience may be misguided or misinformed or even broken by misuses.”
  • Argument: “A thing is true to me if I believe it. It is false to me if I reject it.”
    • Answer: “That is a truthful description of your faith, but it does not change the definition of truth itself; nor does it change any reality. Laws of nature exist whether you believe in them or not; but you live by them, whether you realize it or not.
    • Answer: “Who made you the standard for revealing truth and falsehood? Are you morally flawless, inerrant/authoritative, and all-knowing? Are you Truth?”

Clearly, these arguments concerning truth do not hold up to themselves…

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